Text to Change

Exhibition: Cities | October 11, 2011 by

People in Africa often lack access to basic healthcare information, and while nongovernmental organizations organize media campaigns to increase visits to health facilities, they fall short. Since over 70% of the world’s five billion mobile-phone users live in emerging and developing countries, Dutch communication and technology specialists Bas Hoefman and Hajo van Beijma, cofounders of the nonprofit Text to Change, realized mobile phones could provide an easy and low-cost method for health communication and data collection. They launched SMS Behavioral Change, the first large-scale, interactive educational text-message campaign in Africa.

SMS Behavioral Change, an incentive-based mHealth (or mobile health) education program, focused on AIDS awareness in Mbarara, Uganda, in 2008. Inspired by a documentary on the growth of mobile-phone use in Africa and aware of the HIV/AIDS pandemic on the continent—370 people are infected every day in Uganda alone—Hoefman partnered with a Dutch epidemiologist and the African mobile-service provider Airtel (formerly Celtel), which sent messages at reduced rates, to increase voluntary counseling and testing at Uganda’s AIDS Information Centers (AIC). Participants received via free text message a multiple-choice HIV/AIDS awareness quiz on their mobile phone; if they answered correctly, they were sent more information about the topic. The quiz winner received a mobile phone, phone credit, or other incentives and was encouraged to visit a clinic or test center. After the first campaign reached 15,000 participants, AIC experienced a 40% increase in visits for testing, and it was repeated in 2009 in the city of Arua.

Text to Change partners with national governments, United Nations agencies, mobile-communication providers, for-profit companies, and NGOs to design free, accessible health, education, economic-development, and transparency programs that aim to effect change through customized information and services. Their numerous projects have also addressed child trafficking in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Cameroon, Namibia, and Bolivia, expanding to twelve more countries in 2011.

Founders: Bas Hoefman, Hajo van Beijma. Uganda, 2007. SMS Behavioral Change campaign designers: Bas Hoefman, Hajo van Beijma. Partners: Aids Information Center, Airtel Uganda. Mbarara, Uganda, 2008

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